Tuesday, October 16, 2018

#Inktober2018: Days 13-16

No stories to share this time, just a few more #Inktober2018 drawings. Days 13-14 definitely show that I had more free time on the weekend!

To see all my #Inktober2018 drawings, see this folder in my DeviantArt gallery.

Day 13: Guarded

Day 14: Clock

Day 15: Weak

Day 16: Angular

Friday, October 12, 2018

#Inktober2018: Days 9-12

Here's one of the many reasons that I have to be grateful about changing jobs this past February: Instead of being crushed by mandatory overtime, I actually have the time and energy to do fun things like this! 

To see all my #Inktober2018 drawings, see this folder in my DeviantArt gallery.

Day 9: Precious

A mash-up of The Lord of the Rings with a poster for the movie Precious.

Day 10: Flowing 

Around this time last year, at my previous job, a couple of my coworkers were comparing experiences and beliefs about hauntings. One was a recent immigrant from Mexico, and told about a stretch of river near her home that was reputed to be haunted by a woman's ghost. It was a favorite place for kids to dare each other to go, and most succeeded in scaring themselves pretty thoroughly even if they saw nothing.

I've read enough ghost lore to know she was describing a "weeping woman," or La Llorona, though she never used the name. (She only vaguely recognized the phrase when I asked about it.)

This is my personal favorite of the dozen drawings I've done so far for #Inktober.

Day 11: Cruel

My wife Erika suggested that I draw a Game Master for this prompt. Cackling, I obliged.

Day 12: Whale

Our family discussion over dinner last night turned to Moby Dick because of today's prompt. Sadly, I'm the only one of the four of us who's ever read it. (Twice! Once for sophomore English in high school, once for an American Lit survey in college.)

Monday, October 8, 2018

#Inktober2018: Days 1-8

I was originally going to try #Drawloween again this year, but I decided that the prompt list wasn't to my taste. It included far too many bizarre puns that seemed more restrictive than inspiring.  The prompts for #Inktober2018 (see below) are much simpler, so I've decided to use them instead this year.

I got a little bit of late start due to the 1st being a Monday, but I caught up over the weekend. 

To see all my #Inktober2018 drawings, see this folder in my DeviantArt gallery.

Day 1: Poisonous

Day 2: Tranquil
This one was inspired in part by the servers' Oktoberfest costumes at Marikka's, a local German restaurant, the evening that I drew this.

Day 3: Roasted

Day 4: Spell
This is my nagaji sorcerer, Mahesh Imar A'zun, a baronet of Taldor. I have nearly a dozen active characters from my 2+ years in Pathfinder Society, but I think this is the first time I've actually attempted to draw one of them. (I may do more for Inktober if other prompts suggest some of the others.)

Day 5: Chicken 
Baba Yaga's dancing hut doesn't like visitors! I actually got to sic the hut on some townsfolk during a World of Darkness parody LARP, "City of Flashlights," in which I played "Mama Bubba" herself.

Day 6: Drooling

Day 7: Exhausted
I went to several open houses this weekend, and the weather here in Kentucky still thinks it's high summer. So this day's prompt was very fitting!

Day 8: Star

Tuesday, October 2, 2018

The Kynthiad: Sources for reference and inspiration

Artemis, goddess of the hunt
For the past 11 years, I have been running a solo RPG campaign for my wife Erika, using the Big Eyes Small Mouth rules. "The Nine Journeys of Kynthia," AKA "The Kynthiad," is set in the world of ancient Greek mythology, with a certain amount of real-world Bronze Age history mixed in with the purely fantasy elements. Over the course of the game, I have drawn details and inspiration from a great many sources, the most important ones of which I'll briefly touch on here.

A more complete bibliography of the game's sources can be found here, but that page lacks the commentary I'm giving in this column.

The Game System

The campaign uses BESM Third Edition. The Second Edition BESM Fantasy Bestiary includes a large number of creatures based on Greek mythology, many of which I have converted to Third Edition or used as a benchmark for my own versions. Big Ears, Small Mouse has also been invaluable in designing smaller creatures, and animals in general.

Other RPG Sourcebooks

My lifelong interest in history and mythology has resulted in a good-sized collection of sourcebooks for other game systems that I've been able to use as reference for The Kynthiad. To start with, I have a large GURPS library of over 40 titles. The research put into that game's historical and genre sourcebooks is pretty solid, and most of the subject matter is system-neutral. Unsurprisingly, GURPS Greece and Egypt have seen the most use, but Bestiary, Fantasy Bestiary, Monsters, Places of MysteryTimeline, and even Celtic Myth have all been very useful, too. In GURPS Greece, author Jon Ziegler even provides a timeline that tries to make sense of the often-contradictory sequencing of the major myths, which I've adopted mostly intact as a framework for the recent history and current events of The Kynthiad.

Green Ronin Publishing's "Mythic Vistas" product line includes a couple titles that are great references for this game: Trojan War covers the most famous conflict of the period, and Testament provides information on the ancient Hebrews, Canaanites, Egyptians, and Mesopotamians.

There are also a few older D&D sources that I've used in my research for the game. I own the Dragon Magazine CD Archive--which includes occasional mythology-themed gems such as Michael Parkinson's "The Blood of Medusa"--and the Age of Heroes Historical Reference sourcebook. (I also own the deities sourcebooks for 1st, 2nd, and 3rd edition, but I find the treatments of the Greek gods in books such as Trojan War to be far preferable to these versions, all of which devote far more space to game mechanics than to divine lore.)


I have used a combination of ancient and modern texts to research the ancient Near East. Herodotus's Histories provide a wealth of detail about the world of his time (circa 440 BC), and he isn't stingy about relating myths tied to the events, people, and places he'd writing about. Even though he's writing several centuries after the "Heroic Age," the Histories have provided me with a wealth of details to flesh out obscure parts of the world such as the Scythians, Amazons, Medes, and Hyperboreans.

Probably the most important scholarly text that I've read in preparing this game has been The End of the Bronze Age: Changes in Warfare and the Catastrophe ca. 1200 B.C., by Robert Drews (Princeton University Press, 1993). This book takes a detailed look at the widespread sacking of Mediterranean cities contemporary with historical Troy, and the technology and tactics that contributed to it. The section on chariot design and tactics alone is worth the read, just to dispel a lot of common misunderstandings about how war was conducted at that time.


My collection of translations and retellings of Greek mythology is far too large to catalog briefly, but a few items stand out as most useful to a GM trying to run a roleplaying campaign in this setting.

Robert Graves' Greek Myths is one of my primary reference works for quickly finding summaries of many stories, and following connections between them. My copy (The Folio Society, 1966) has an index of names which includes the meanings of many of them. Each section of the main text is followed by Graves' notes on sources, and his theories about the origins and meaning of the myths. Many of these notes are typical scholarly glosses, but in some passages, Graves expounds on his own bizarre pet theories about the subject at hand (however tenuously linked that subject and his theory might be). To give just a couple examples, he shares Frazer's obsession with attributing everything to sacred kings and fertility cults, and he has some very radical (many would say crazypants) ideas about the secret tree lore of the Druids. However, I have managed to distill a number of very useful ideas for use in my RPG campaign from his weirder ramblings.

My other favorite reference is Carlos Parada's Greek Mythology Link website, which is a massively hyperlinked database of people and places in Greek myths, including footnotes giving the original period sources for each page's topic. Special features of the site include genealogical charts, contextual charts (e.g., events before, during, and after the Trojan War), and detailed maps. These graphics are often limited in resolution on the website, but can be purchased as high-resolution PDFs. I acquired my copies several years ago, back when a handy and inexpensive archive of the complete database was available for purchase on CD.


Naturally, movies and television have provided a great deal of inspiration for The Kynthiad. Series like Hercules and Xena play much more "fast and loose" with historical periods than I'm ever going to in this campaign, but they're still good for mining for story ideas. Movies like Clash of the Titans, Jason and the Argonauts, Troy, and Gods of Egypt provide great over-the-top battle scenes to use as models for RPGs involving gods and monsters, despite their many deviations from the classical versions of those stories. (I used to get much more bent out of shape over the liberties the screenwriters take with the source material, until I realized that the ancients were just as guilty of it.)

As I mentioned in an earlier column, I cast most characters in The Kynthiad using real-world actors so that my wife and I have a common frame of reference for them. The movie Troy was released just a few years before we started the campaign, and I knew that many of those characters would appear in the game, so it was easy to just keep the same casting for most of them. To cast other roles, I've drawn from a wide variety of other movies and TV shows--many but far from all of them being period pieces or fantasy films--to find suitable actors. In most cases, I limited myself to living actors whose current ages fit the parts I choose for them, but I have made a few exceptions. For example, Jolene Blalock played Medea in a TV movie of Jason and the Argonauts in 2000. My game is set a generation later, but Medea is a demigoddess who doesn't age as quickly as mortals do, so my reference photos for her include that costume as well as more recent headshots. Similarly, a handful of actors have died since I started the campaign (most notably Alan Rickman and Peter O'Toole), but I continue to use them in the game.

If you have a favorite source for information on the ancient Near East and its history and mythology, please share a link in the comments!

Past posts about "The Kynthiad"

Thursday, September 27, 2018

Advanced Bestiary: Dust Bunnies

This week's column was inspired by my family trying to clean our house in preparation for a guest visiting next month. That's right, it's more fun with the templates in Green Ronin's Advanced Bestiary as we present...the lowly but surprisingly obnoxious dust bunny!

Dust Bunny

This small creature has long ears and oversized feet. It seems to be formed out of tangled dirt, hair, and other detritus.


XP 100
Dust rabbit (Advanced Bestiary; Pathfinder RPG Ultimate Wilderness)
N Tiny outsider (air, earth, elemental, extraplanar)
Init +4; Senses low-light vision; Perception +1
AC 16, touch 16, flat-footed 12 (+4 Dex, +2 size)
hp 5 (1d10)
Fort +2, Ref +6, Will +1
Immune elemental traits
Defensive Abilities air mastery
Speed 50 ft.
Melee bite –3 (1d3–5)
Space 2-1/2 ft.; Reach 0 ft.
Special Attacks dust blast (1d4, DC 10), exude dust (DC 10)
Str 1, Dex 18, Con 11, Int 2, Wis 12, Cha 3
Base Atk +1; CMB +2; CMD 7
Feats Run
Skills Acrobatics +8 (+16 when jumping), Stealth +20
SQ air breather, airborne
Environment temperate plains (and Elemental Planes of Air and Earth)
Organization solitary, pair, or down (3–16)
Treasure none
Air Breather (Ex) A dust creature can breathe air, even if the base creature breathed only water.
Air Mastery (Ex) Airborne creatures takes a –1 penalty on attack and damage rolls against a dust creature.
Airborne (Su) At will, a dust creature can walk on air as though with an air walk spell. In addition, it always falls as if affected by a feather fall spell. When falling, the dust creature can be moved on the wind as noted in the description of the air walk spell.
Dust Blast (Su) Once every 1d4 rounds, as a standard action, a dust creature can emit an abrasive jet of dust-filled wind that damages objects and other creatures. This wind takes the form of a 5-foot-wide, 20-foot-long line that causes 1d4 points of slashing damage per 2 Hit Dice (minimum 1d4, maximum 20d4). Any creature caught within the area may attempt a Reflex save for half damage. The save DC is Constitution-based.
Exude Dust (Su) At will as a free action, a dust creature can exude a cloud of dust that surrounds its body in a 10-foot spread. This cloud functions like an obscuring mist spell, except all dust creatures can see through it normally. Any other creature caught within in the cloud must succeed on a Fortitude save or be blinded by the stinging dust. Creatures that close their eyes or have them covered before the dust could affect them gain a +10 circumstance bonus on the save roll. A creature that enters the dust cloud with its eyes closed or covered need not make a save against blindness unless it opens its eyes while within the dust cloud. A creature blinded by a dust creature’s cloud of dust regains its sight 1d4 rounds after its last exposure to a dust cloud with its eyes open. Blinding exposure of even a single eye blinds all eyes supernaturally. This is a blinding effect. The save DC is Constitution-based.

Saturday, September 22, 2018

To sleep, perchance to dream...

The new job that I started in February is at a university, so the past couple weeks have been the busiest since I started there: the beginning of the school year means a ton of registration changes and admissions documents to process. That work load has not left me enough free time and head space to prep a regular blog post this week. (I usually aim to post on Wednesday or Thursday.) However, my subconscious has apparently stepped up to help by giving me a very bizarre dream last night, which begs to be used as a part of a surreal modern-day horror adventure, so I'll share the highlights of that with you.

It started mundanely enough, with me being back in the part of central Indiana that I grew up in. I was there for a high school reunion, or something similar. I ran into a couple of the women who had been among the pretty, popular girls in school, but now (despite one being extremely pregnant) they looked old, and their husbands (who I didn't know) were even older and grayer.

Everyone was staying in rooms in a sort of delapidated industrial tower that had been built and abandoned since I lived there as a kid. It reminded me very strongly of Isengard or Barad-Dur, but in a quaint, comical way, so I decided to spend some time exploring it and taking pictures with my camera phone.

I went up to the roof, but couldn't find a way to look down over the parapets at the surrounding countryside, or to get into the handful of boxy turrets that went even further up. Then I noticed that I could see mountains. (Mountains? In central Indiana? Even immersed in the dream as I was, I could tell something very weird was going on here!)

Up here, the structure looked even more like a castle than before, and that impression was further reinforced as I went back inside to find someone to talk to about it. The hallway I took crossed a short bridge over a stony channel that had water flowing through it. It was rather dark here, but the channel was dungeon-like enough that I tried to get a picture of it. As my camera tried to compensate for the dim light, I suddenly saw three shapes running/swimming/splashing down the channel towards the bridge. They made me think of merrow or Deep Ones--and they were big, so I didn't wait around to find out what they were or what they wanted. I ran--

--and woke up.

It's been a very long time since I remember being scared awake by a dream--and even longer since I could remember so many details of a dream this clearly.

Thursday, September 20, 2018

Drawloween is coming!

I participated in #Drawloween in 2016, despite a hand injury late in the month of October that year, but seem to have completely failed to follow through in 2017. (I think I printed the list, then forgot about it. Oops.) I'll be trying this again next year. 

My daughter (now in her first year of high school) has inherited my obsession with drawing monsters. She makes art far more regularly than I do these days, and thought this idea was cool when I did it two years ago, so I may see if she wants to join in and let me share some of her work.